Public speaking for women

It’s good to see Susan Cain getting well-deserved press in the Financial Times.

Her 2013 book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and guest posting on this blog are a a great resource for anyone intimidated by the challenge of speaking in public. Opening an article in the Dec 27 FT, Emma Jacobs quotes Susan and then focuses on the specific challenges faced by women speakers.

Viv_Groskop_Book_CoverEmma’s interviews comedian Viv Groskop, who tackles anxiety and vulnerability in her book, How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking.

Ms. Groskop claims that she wrote the book for women because:

…they have been underserved when it comes to advice on this area. “Almost all the books ever written about public speaking and rhetoric have been about men, by men and for men”.

Overlooked resources

Surprisingly, the article does not mention either Toastmasters or the Professional Speaking Association in the UK, both of which offer great resources to help prepare speakers, male or female, for presentations. Ironically, the current President of the PSA is a woman. In the US, many of the members of the National Speakers Association are women. Patricia Fripp, the first woman national president, offers a wide range of resources to help people deliver powerful presentations.

Another resource for women which the article overlooks is Kate Peters’ excellent book Can You Hear Me Now?. Kate frequently addresses organizations such as Women in Business and E-Women where she highlights differences in how men and women communicate.

Then there’s Speaker Sisterhood, started by Angela Lussier. This group is very active in New England, and offer a community to women who want to discover, awaken and create their voice through the art of public speaking can gain confidence, meet amazing women, and become a better speaker. They have recorded over 100 podcasts that deal with issues such as thriving on stage, overcoming a dread of public speaking, storytelling, and much more.

The weaker sex?

Speaking coach Lisa Braithwait tackles the issue of coaching women speakers in her blog. She asks why there are presentation strategies for women, but not men:

By continuing to write about these alleged weaknesses of women presenters, we perpetuate negative perceptions and assumptions about women as speakers and leaders. We perpetuate the myth that women (because of either birth or gender socialization — we’ll never know) need to be fixed. I work with individuals, and they all have unique characteristics, personalities, flaws, strengths, and needs. I couldn’t possibly categorize or stereotype them and give blanket advice. Whether you’re a man or a woman, the same basic principles apply to presenting.

Five tips for public speakers

Be that as it may, the article concludes with Viv’s five tips on being a confident speaker. I would suggest men can also benefit from these:

  • Write down the excuses you are making to yourself about not speaking. What are your self-limiting beliefs? Read these back and later write an opposite truth. For example, by “I don’t have a strong voice”, write, “I can work on strengthening my voice.”
  • Pick a topic you care enough about to write a speech on. Write five phrases that suit the topic, persuading the audience why they should care. Then give this speech — perhaps by recording it and publishing it online, or at a party.
  • Work on self-belief. Give yourself two minutes to write down 10 things you have done that make you proud. Set the timer to 20 minutes and write another 40. Read the list back.
  • Watch and analyse speakers’ styles. Find ones you like on YouTube and TED Talks and try to see what works about it.
  • Look for opportunities to speak. Practise different types of speaking. Don’t be put off by a bad experience.

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Kudos to Brian Bollen of Towcester, Northants, UK who wrote to the FT in response to the same article. (The picture the FT used with the letter was priceless!)


I read with interest Emma Jacobs’ article “ How to overcome fear and make your voice heard in 2019” (December 31).

I have one guaranteed solution to anyone terrified of public speaking but keen to acquire skills and confidence: join the non-profit organisation Toastmasters International and become an active member.

From my own experience as a member, and that of my wife, I can tell you that it works quickly and very cost-effectively. When my wife joined, we could not get her to stand up and speak out. In less than six months we could not get her to sit down and shut up.

She became president of our local club, won several club speaking contests and came within a whisker of winning through to the national UK and Ireland contest on more than one occasion.

Although I am no longer a member, I continue to evangelise for the organisation because I know it can be life-changing. Snake oil salesmen would charge untold thousands for the benefits that Toastmasters International delivers for just a few pounds and four hours a month. According to its official website, it has 292,000 members in nearly 14,300 clubs in 122 countries. There will almost certainly be a club near you.

They didn’t use that photo in the UK edition! I will email them at once to let them know!!

The FT’s letters editor has apologised, blaming the picture editor, and says she has removed it!

While this chap is hardly a member of Toastmasters International, he’s obviously from the same school of public speaking as late British comedian Jimmy Edwards!

Jimmy Edwards

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